Is Your A/P Clerk a Knowledge Worker? | AccountingWEB

Is Your A/P Clerk a Knowledge Worker?

Knowledge workers. The hype is everywhere, from Microsoft commercials to Gartner reports. This is the age of the knowledge worker. Just what does that mean? How has the job of the typical Accounts Payable clerk been transformed?

Let's take a little trip back in time to a retail operation I audited early in my career. Their accounts payable department took up one half of a floor in a small office building. The women (yes, they were all women and one of them actually tried to match me up with that nice young single credit manager) had large manual calculators called comptometers on their desks. Every day they would take the invoices received from the retail outlets for products received and check the calculations and the tax. They would then create batches of fifty invoices, attach an adding machine tape and send the stack off to the data entry department to be entered into the computer by another group.

Fast forward twenty years to that same department. There are far fewer accounts payable clerks and the data entry department is long gone. The clerks enter the invoices directly into the computer which does all the calculations so they can just check that the total on the invoice is correct. The system also compares the pricing back to the company's purchase order, another step that used to be handled manually. Have we reached the knowledge worker stage yet? Not quite.

Fast forward to now. There is about the same number of people in accounts payable, but they are handling a lot more transactions because the company has grown. There is no data entry because supplier invoices come into the system automatically via electronic data interchange (EDI). When accounts payable staff sit down at their workstations they see an icon to tell them how many documents are waiting for approval. As they open each document, information about the supplier pops up in a fact window. They can see statistics about the volume of transactions as well as being able to examine past transactions. If they see a large number of returns or problems with documentation, they are in a position to recommend that the supplier relationship be reviewed.

When I asked a Microsoft employee about their view of the typical accounting system user, his response was immediate, "Everyone sees the KPI's" (key performance indicators - i.e. the statistical analysis which measures progress). In this world everyone is a decision maker. Everyone is responsible for their goals. It isn't enough to just show up and put in your eight hours. Everyone is a manager of something.

Is that how you view your accounting staff? The more I think about it, the more I think that is the way to go. Things happen too quickly for all the decision making to climb up the chain of command. Besides, who has the time anyway? You just have to make sure that the internal processes and systems stay in synch. It's pointless to make all kinds of information available to someone who is not in a position to make any decisions. It just clutters the screen. Conversely, it's pointless to make people responsible for outcomes without giving them the information they need.

Does your company employ accounting clerks or knowledge workers? Please leave me a comment.

This blog

by Bill Kennedy, CA.IT, PMP - With over 25 years of accounting experience, Bill has a varied background in accounting management and accounting systems implementation, with a focus on the charitable sector. He is also an experienced volunteer board member and fundraiser.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.


Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.


Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.


Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".


William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.


Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (, a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.


Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.


Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website:
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.


The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.


FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.


Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.


Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.


AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.